In five days’ time, precisely September 30, elections will be held into at least six sports federations whose constitutions have been approved by their respective international regulatory bodies.
The federations whose elections will be supervised by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development are Nigeria Aquatics Federation, Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Nigeria Boxing Federation, Cycling Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Shooting Federation, as well as Nigeria Table Tennis Federation.
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It is expected that the President, Vice President, Zonal Representatives excluding the Secretaries-General and Treasurers of the sports federations will be given fresh mandates to change the face of sports in Nigeria.
However, it is common knowledge that elections in Nigeria are usually characterized by bitter rivalries that oftentimes lead to long drawn post elections crisis and litigations.
Interestingly, in the last few weeks, there have been accusations, counter accusations as well as high sounding promises by aspirants who have continued to persuade other stakeholders to vote for them.
The sport federation that appears to be already heading towards another round of crisis is the Nigeria Basketball Federation. It will be recalled that since 2017, when two factional presidents emerged in the NBBF, the game has not known absolute peace.
The sports federation remained factionalized. While some of the stakeholders teamed up with Engineer Musa Kida whose election in Abuja was endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Sports, others queued behind Tijanni Umar.
Consequently, as the two gladiators fought over the soul of the NBBF, the game itself continued to suffer as only the national teams featured in international competitions.
The domestic leagues invariably suffered the most because there were no activities due to the court case that was instituted against the Kida led NBBF board.
After several interventions, there appeared to be some relief as the court case that held down the Nigeria Basketball Premier League was eventually quashed paving the way for the ongoing league season which has continued to attract condemnations from the opposing camp.
Soon as the six sports federations received the notification from the Federal Ministry of sports for them to conduct elections into their respective boards, a group of major basketball stakeholders known as Nigerian Basketball Vanguard, immediately unfolded its agenda to “rescue Nigeria’s basketball from mediocre and strengthen the sport for the betterment of the players and the country.”
The emergence of the group being led by Tijanni Umar is seen by many as a bold attempt by the camp opposed to Kida to wrestle power from him.
The group is composed of former players of the national teams, national league, collegiate, state basketball association’s chairmen, referees, technical commissioners, club owners and media practitioners.
While speaking on behalf of the Nigeria Basketball Vanguard, Umar accused the former Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Solomon Dalung, of destroying the foundation and structures of Nigeria’s basketball by handing over the sport to traders. Obviously, he was referring to his opponent, Engineer Kida.
However, he said they’re now determined to stop the institutional destruction of the game of basketball and its structures in the country. “I don’t know where basketball is better represented in Nigeria today than in this group. We would not hold our hands watching mediocre running Nigeria’s basketball.
“From today, the line is drawn and the major objective of this group is to stop the institutional destruction of basketball and its structures in Nigeria, checkmate the corruption in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), address the fraud and forgery in elections into the board of the NBBF and strengthen the NBBF structures. Our house is weak and has termites all over the place,” said Umar.
In his reaction, Kida said the 2019 NBBF constitution will be followed to the letter and the elections will be done in line with the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA) laws under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Sports and Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC).
Kida described the ploy as a cheap scheme to distract the people with unnecessary controversies while plunging basketball into another round of crisis.
“This funny entity is not known to anybody nor is it recognized by the NBBF constitution as ratified by the 2019 Congress held in Abuja. The constitution as ratified by FIBA and domiciled with NOC or FMYSD accorded recognition to Chairmen of the State Associations, Representatives of Coaches, Referees, Players Associations, NAPHER/SD, NAWIS and All Members from the geographical zones (Zonal Reps) alongside the President and Vice President.
“These individuals coming together should tell us who they represent. Is Ajibarede Bello representing coaches or Gbade Olatona representing the players association? All these individuals should tell Nigerians which body they are representing as enshrined in the constitution.
“So, Nigeria Basketball Vanguard should tell Nigerians where they derive their legitimacy to challenge the electoral process. I think these people with ulterior motives are scared of their own shadows,” he said.
With crisis looming ahead of the NBBF elections, the sports ministry convened an emergency meeting with the leadership of the two factions in the NBBF to help settle the 4-year old feud that has tugged at the heart of the unity of the game.
The meeting which was attended by top officials from the ministry arrived at a decision that a stakeholders meeting with the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, be convened before the end of September for amicable resolution of the contending issues.
Speaking with Trust Sports, a former international player, Mohammed Abba ‘Jugu’ said the crisis in the federation is as a result of selfish interest from the contenders just as he blamed them for the dearth of players in the country.
“Personally, I can say it is a lack of understanding and selfish interest because internationally, we are doing good but there are no youth programs in the last four years. Most of our players don’t have interest again after being idle for almost 5 years.
“It is normal to look for other things to do. I won’t call the program the NBBF had as a league but a tournament. How can we compete with Angola and others who have their leagues running consistently? The solution right now is for the big shots in government to call the gladiators and they should table their grievances,” he said.
In the same vein, the captain of the reigning Women basketball League champions, Air Warriors basketball club, Blessing Emmanuel has chided the administrators for stalling the players’ careers.
“They don’t want us to play. We are waiting and nothing is happening. And as for the elections, I really don’t have anything to say on that,” she said.
On his part, the Minister of Sports, Dare, has said his ministry will ensure fairness and a level playing field for all those aspiring to get into the boards of national sports federations.
“We hope there will be no bitter agitations and litigations that will hurt our sports this time around.
“But it is in the nature of politics to have complaints, disagreements and those who feel that they did not get a fair bargain would resort to litigation. These are all part of politics.
“However, we do not want that kind of winner takes all politics in our sports. I hope we will not have cases that will cripple and hurt our sports as we had with some federations in the past.”
Dare further explained that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development would not interfere in the electoral process or seek to favour particular candidates or persons in any of the federations.
“We have no vested interests. We are not imposing candidates on any federation. We will be observers alongside the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC).
“The electoral and appeals committees have credible persons on board who will ensure all processes are transparent, free and fair,” said Dare
Meanwhile, even as tension is building up in the Nigeria Basketball Federation, the remaining sports federations are having rancour free zonal elections where representatives on their respective boards have continued to emerge.
For now, Nigerian sports stakeholders are waiting with keen interest to see how the federations would conduct their elections come Thursday, September 30.